The Wall

Nothing encourages a flurry of questions more about our wall along the A31 than a spate of holes.

So, as more and more appear, I thought I’d pre-empt them by choosing ‘the wall’ as this week’s contribution to my column.

During my four years as the Conservative candidate, ‘the wall’ was a major topic of interest.

In fact, I can say with some certainty that it was the most popular topic.

The interest came in the form of ridicule, humour and genuine interest.

Let me reveal the most popular question: “Richard, how many bricks are in the wall?”

The answer is more than two million.

For better or worse, ‘the wall’ is a Dorset landmark.

Like the five-legged stag, rumours abound as to why it was built.

One claims it was to settle a gambling debt, while another was to corral a herd of bison used for hunting by earlier Draxes.

However, the truth is a little different. It was built by my ancestor John Samuel Sawbridge Erle-Drax as a money-raising venture.

He promoted the route as a turnpike, complete with lodges.

However, the advent of the Wimborne to Dorchester railway ended this little fund-raiser, but the road and the wall remained.

In common with many of his Victorian contemporaries, building was Erle-Drax’s passion. Readers may remember him from my recent column as the eccentric who spoke only once during his entire 32 years in the House of Commons – and then only to ask the Speaker to open the window.

He also built himself a magnificent mausoleum with an integral letterbox so that the Times could be delivered daily following his death!

He also rebuilt Charborough tower - the inspiration for Thomas Hardy’s ‘Two on a Tower’ - after it was struck by lightning.

I’m slightly digressing, though, away from ‘the wall’.

And, I shall conclude by scotching another popular myth concerning the so-called five-legged stag.

It is widely renowned as the only five-legged version in existence and I do sometimes wonder whether counting and recounting his legs adds to the general mayhem along the road there.

My favourite explanation, recounted to me many, many times by people I meet, is that one of my ancestors gazed out of the window and could only see three of the stag’s legs.

Without further ado, the story goes, he ordered another one to be added to ensure he could see four legs.

Regrettably, this is not the case. The fifth leg is nothing more than a support to ensure the stag remains where he is.

For once, perhaps, this is an example of where fiction is stranger than the truth.

So, the next time you pass our wall, you will be fully informed, but do please spare a sympathetic thought for our wonderful bricklayer whose job is assured.